Difference Between Physical & Chemical Sunscreen!


Difference Between Physical & Chemical Sunscreen!

Summer is finally here!  After the long, cold winter we had and being cooped up at home ( hello quarantine), we are so ready to bust out the swimsuits and soak up a hefty dose of vitamin D. I don’t blame you! But before doing so, here’s your gentle reminder that the intense UV rays of the sun can cause sunburns, wrinkles, age spots and cancer-causing free radicals. Luckily, there’s no need to fret, as you can still enjoy the outdoors in moderation with a little precaution and preparation in the form of sunscreen and protective clothing.

You probably already know how important it is to wear sunscreen daily; let’s note here that this should be a year-round health preventative measure, not one just followed during the warmer months, and yes, even on cloudy days! While we could go into a whole blog post as to why it matters, we won’t right now. But the question is, are you wearing the right sunscreen? There are two primary types of sunscreens on the market- physical or mineral sunscreen and chemical sunscreen. We’ll run through the differences of both, which will hopefully allow you to make an informed and confident decision before stocking up this summer.

Physical sunscreens contain active mineral ingredients, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These compounds work by sitting on top of the skin, creating a physical barrier and deflecting UV rays. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, contain carbon-based ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate and avobenzone. These compounds work together to create a chemical reaction that turn UV rays into heat, which is then dissipated from the skin into the air. In other words, physical sunscreens sit on top of the skin and block the sun, while chemical sunscreens are absorbed and filter the sun.

So, is one a better choice than the other? Yes! A natural mineral sunscreen is by far your best bet. Just as the name denotes, there’s often an abundance of toxic chemicals found in traditional chemical sunscreens that can cause all sorts of health problems. This is especially true if you're prone to acne or have other skin ailments. Growing research is continuing to back this claim up, which has led to the FDA recently flagging 12 common ingredients found in chemical sunscreens (1). Yikes! As we’re always preaching here at Papillon, what we put on our body is as important as what we put on it!

Mineral-based sunscreens have gotten somewhat of a bad rap over the years, mocked for the stickiness and white residue that many of the early generation products left behind. However, the technology has vastly improved, resulting in new formulations that rub in much clearer. In fact, the number of natural sunscreens available has spiked in recent years, giving you a plethora of brands and SPF levels to choose from. Of course, remember to always check the ingredient list first, to know exactly what you’re applying on your skin and always check that the sunscreen contains non-nano zinc oxide ( this should be clearly stated on the bottle).

You can always pair your sunscreen with a pure oil, such as pomegranate oil, to double up on protection. Pomegranate oil is considered to be a natural sunscreen and has even been known to help prevent sun spots and speed up the healing process for sunburns. In fact, a study showed it to boost the effectiveness of UV protection by nearly 20 percent (2). Wow! Papillon Certified Organic Pomegranate Oil also has strong anti-inflammatory properties and is high in antioxidants and vitamin C, which both contribute to younger, healthier looking skin. Simply mix a drop or two into your sunscreen and be on your way! Watch this video to see how I a do it.


While choosing the right sunscreen is crucial, it’s equally important to apply it properly. In fact, most people don’t use enough or cover the body as they should. So, be generous. Don’t skimp on application, and don’t forget about easy-to-miss spots like the tips of your ears, the tops of your knees and the back of your legs. The AAD and other experts suggest that every adult should use around two tablespoons worth, which is around the equivalent to a full shot glass. (2). Consider a lip balm with SPF as well, and no matter how long-lasting your formula claims to be, reapply every 2 hours. Reapply even more often if you're sweating excessively or getting wet from activity. I personally keep a powder mineral sunscreen on hand to apply throughout the day. Finally, pay attention to the expiration date on your bottle of sunscreen, as it will lose effectiveness over time. 

We’ll wrap this up by noting that the safest 'sunscreen' will always and forever be shade or wearing protective clothing. Whether that’s in the form of a hat, long-sleeve shirt or sunglasses, consider having these on hand for those extra hot and sunny days. After all, long-term beautiful skin will always trump a temporary tan. Do you wear sun protection daily? If so, what's your current sunscreen of choice? Have a sun-safe summer this 2019!


  1. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2733085 
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004287/
  3. https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs